The Iranian Art of Negotiation
The year is 1993 and it has been twenty years since I last saw my parents. I make a hasty two-week trip to the country of my birth, Iran. My parents are getting old and my father is sick. He is in bed during my entire visit.
I’m overwhelmed by all the beautiful hand-made rugs I see in relatives’ homes, and inquire whether there is any restriction for me to purchase a rug to take back to the U.S. I’m not sure what the government regulations are these days, because after the revolution many things had changed. The answer is affirmative and I am permitted to take two pieces out of the country.
I don’t know how to buy a rug, and of course my father, the great negotiator, is sick in bed. He calls his trusted friend and asks him to assist me with the selection of an appropriate rug. His friend, charged with this important mission, does not want to act alone. He, in turn, calls his own brother who is a rug expert.
We all meet at the rug gallery of Mr. Asadi, the rug merchant, in the morning, somewhere near the center of Tehran. While he shows us rugs of different qualities and sizes, he also plays the role of a gracious host by offering us tea, fresh fruit, and bowls of delicious Persian ice cream. Trays of freshly brewed tea in tiny glasses keep coming around, and Mr. Asadi’s workers keep displaying rugs for our inspection.
Two hours pass and based on the recommendation of my father’s friend, we select six pieces. Mr. Asadi says he would personally bring the rugs to my parents’ house so that my father can examine them as well.
Up to this point, no one has mentioned any price. I’m feeling very nervous. The two expert gentlemen calm me down by saying, “First like the rug, don’t think of the price.” I remember their own comments while looking at different rugs: “this is a pretty one,” “that one smiles at you,” “this rug really grabs you.”
In late afternoon, Asadi delivers the rugs to my parents’ house. This time, it is my mother who plays the gracious hostess and offers goodies to Mr. Asadi. He consumes several cups of tea along with some pastries, and a bowl of chocolate ice-cream. His earlier hospitality has now been reciprocated. We push aside the little coffee tables in the large living room. Mr. Asadi spreads the rugs in the middle of the room, slightly overlapping. My father manages to get out of bed, and still in his pajamas, comes and sits on the sofa next to his friend, the rug expert. He nods approvingly and sanctions the quality of the rugs. Now comes the big moment: they begin talking price.
The “art of negotiation” which my father practices flawlessly and with perfection has always fascinated me. I pay careful attention to his every word and watch his every move. I don’t want to miss anything - maybe I will learn a few lessons. We refer to it as “bargaining,” but it is truly an art which combines carefully-chosen words, gestures, movements and psychological connection. It requires “know-how” and flair.
Asadi smiles and announces the rugs have no value compared to his friendship with my father! Dad looks at him affectionately, smiles back and says, “Go ahead Asadi, give us a price.” After a few moments of hesitation, to show his reluctance, he finally utters some numbers.
My father’s friend is holding a notepad and a pen. Upon hearing Asadi’s figures, he scribbles something on the paper. He and my father bend their heads together while glancing back and forth at the rugs and the notepad. After a few minutes of consultation, in low voices, Dad’s friend turns to Asadi and calmly asks, “Do you know how to subtract?”
Mr. Asadi smiles from ear to ear and replies, “But I’m much better at addition!”
Again, my father and his friend whisper. This time they write down some numbers and push the paper in front of Mr. Asadi. Suddenly, the smile is totally wiped off Mr. Asadi’s face. He takes a look at the numbers and simply says, “Don’t even bother. These rugs are my gifts to you. No payment is necessary.” By this time, even I get the drift - the offer is way too low for him to even consider it.
The negotiation continues for almost an hour, until they mutually agree on a price. In the meantime, fresh cups of tea keep coming out of my mother’s kitchen. Mr. Asadi is having a great time visiting, socializing, and doing business all at the same time. My father is negotiating and purchasing in the privacy and comfort of his living room. Of the six rugs on display, they select two and set them aside, and the rest are returned to Mr. Asadi’s car.
As an observer and the recipient of the purchased rugs, I’m fascinated by the whole process. The use of the language, gestures, facial expressions, and unspoken understanding displayed by both parties are something to behold. Above all, neither party feels cheated. There is a mutual satisfaction that indicates a win-win situation for all.